How CEOs should address contentious politics: 4 points to consider

In an era when the political environment is more divisive and contentious than ever before, how should executives speak out about politics — if they should at all? According to the Harvard Business Review, there are risks and rewards associated with CEO activism.

Public relations company Weber Shandwick and KRC Research surveyed 1,050 senior executives and 2,100 consumers across 21 markets worldwide to assess people's expectations of corporate leaders on political issues.

Here are four findings from the survey, according to Harvard Business Review.

1. The two biggest factors that influence consumers' opinions about companies are what customers say about them (indicated by 88 percent of respondents) and how companies react during a crisis (85 percent).

2. A company's response to a controversy, including how promptly it responds, is a bigger driver of the public's perception of the company than what is said about it by the media (76 percent), by employees (76 percent), by the company on its website (68 percent), by official spokespeople (61 percent), or in the company's advertising (61 percent).

3. Stakeholders are beginning to pressure CEOs to speak up on controversial issues. The survey found that 46 percent of executives from large companies prefer that companies speak out on political issues such as climate change, gun control, immigration and LGBT rights. This is up from 36 percent of executives who indicated the same in the 2014 survey.

4. Among executive respondents who work for companies with "world-class" reputations, 63 percent said CEOs should take a public stance on such issues. However, fewer consumers (41 percent) said companies should speak out on political issues.

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